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Cubs historical sleuthing: Ron Santo edition

This one’s been narrowed down. Probably.

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

In sleuthing this one, I wound up with two, and no more than two, possible dates. I picked one, and... well, there’s a small chance it could be the other one.

Let me explain.

First, here’s what Getty Images says about this photo:

Third Baseman Ron Santo #10 of the Chicago Cubs in action making a play on the ball at third base during a circa early 1970’s Major League Baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. Santo played for the Cubs from 1960-73.

Well, yes. That’s Ron Santo, and not only is it the early 1970s, it has to be 1972 or 1973, because that’s the only years Santo would have worn the beltless pants the Cubs started wearing in ‘72.

The next clue is Santo’s hair. Yes, his hair. Here’s a photo that Getty definitively dates to July 5, 1973:

Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Look at that long hair! There are other photos of Santo from ‘73 with hair that long, but none from ‘72.

Thus the sleuthing photo has to be from 1972.

The next clue is the umpire, No. 14. That’s Chris Pelekoudas. He is signaling “fair ball” as Santo makes the play.

There are only two games Pelekoudas was the third-base umpire at Wrigley Field in 1972: June 14 and September 16. Both were warm, sunny days, so both match what we see.

The wild card clue here is how many fans we see — not many at all. At first glance you’d think this was a very small crowd. But attendance June 14 was 12,171 and September 16 had a larger crowd, 20,192. That might hint at the June date.

The thing is, we are looking toward the left field corner, not directly behind third base. Those seats often wound up empty even if there was a larger crowd elsewhere in the ballpark.

Santo handled two ground balls in the June 14 game: a third-to-first play in the second inning and a third-to-second forceout to end the top of the eighth.

Santo handled one ground ball in the September 16 game: a third-to-first ground ball on which a run scored.

So which is it?

For this I’m going to take a bit of a leap of faith and use the shadow Santo casts on the field as the tiebreaker. That does not look like a June 14 shadow — that’s almost the longest day of the year and the sun is much higher in the sky, and it would have been even in the eighth inning of a 1:30 p.m. start. To me, that looks like a September shadow, it’s much longer than you’d see in June and also angled the way you’d see one near the autumnal equinox, nearly straight from west to east.

The Cubs won the game Saturday, September 16, 1972 by the wacky score of 18-5. Quite a few memorable things happened that afternoon. The Cubs scored eight runs off future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver in 2⅓ innings. It was the only game in Seaver’s career in which he allowed eight earned runs in fewer than three innings. Cubs starter Burt Hooton hit a grand slam off Seaver and the Cubs drew 15 walks off Mets pitching, which is the franchise record for a nine-inning game.

As I often do with these, I sent this one to Mike Bojanowski for his thoughts. After helping me narrow down the possible games, he wrote me:

This pic illustrates what has always fascinated me about sports, baseball especially, and memories. Santo played in over 2,200 games, he came to bat over 9,000 times, he had over 6,800 chances in the field. Unless a player has an individual game the likes of Sandberg, your memories of him are going to be a blur. You couldn’t count the number of times Santo struck that pose.

That’s undoubtedly true. I’m pretty well convinced it’s the September game. You might disagree. The game of Wednesday, June 14, 1972 was also pretty memorable: The Cubs blew a 6-0 lead, let the Padres tie the game 6-6 in the sixth, then put six of their own on the board in the bottom of that inning to go up 12-6. The Padres made it 12-9 after eight and had the tying run at the plate with one out in the ninth, but Tom Phoebus retired the next two hitters.

So I’ll throw this open to you. Do you agree with me that this is from 9/16/72? Or is it from 6/14/72?


The photo of Ron Santo on this post was taken...

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Wednesday, June 14, 1972
    (39 votes)
  • 76%
    Saturday, September 16, 1972
    (127 votes)
166 votes total Vote Now